I recently wrote about my experience with weight loss. I wrote about the three things that helped me lose weight sensibly but also allowed me to keep it off in the long run. After drastically yo-yo dieting my way through 2nd and 3rd year at university it was a such a relief to ditch the diet and find a lifestyle that not only works but also makes me feel good about myself. The reason I wanted to lose weight in the first place was because I put on quite a lot of weight in my first semester at university. I think that this is very common and the typical student lifestyle really does throw together the optimum conditions for weight gain. Blissfully unaware, I put on 2 stone very easily in just a few months. Perhaps I could have been a little more mindful about my lifestyle and not put on so much weight so quickly had I been more aware of how easily it might happen… maybe, maybe not… Anyhow, I wanted to write about some of the reasons why one might gain weight at university. I like to think it may be of use to anyone starting university this coming September.
Lack of routine –
This does depend on the style of your course but if like me you are studying an arts discipline you are likely to have only a handful of hours in your timetable. This leaves you with a week full of hours to fill as you please: in the library, in bed, recovering from a night out, studying at home, spending time with friends etc this list goes on. I think this sudden change and lack of routine played a huge part in my weight gain. Going from a very structured lifestyle at 6th form to such a lack of one at uni caused havoc to my eating patterns. It can also make you more lazy and if you haven’t got anywhere to go or be for a whole day you can find that you have easily spent a whole day in the same place without hardly moving!
Alcohol contains SO many calories and it is so so easy to consume multiple days worth of calories on just one heavy night out. Not everyone will drink or drink a lot but it is true that many uni lifestyles do involve regular drinking too. I definitely notice even now that if there are a few days when I have drank a lot, I tend to put on a bit of weight. Alcohol really does affect my waistline. Just swapping a few things here and there can make a difference; choose the diet coke mixer for example. Gin and tonic is a great drink if you want to keep the calorie content down. Not only does alcohol contain lots of calories, it also often comes hand in hand with stopping off at McDonalds on the way home or ordering in a pizza. Under the influence of alcohol you are less likely to turn down fast food. Plus, I get all the cravings for bad food when I’ve had a few drinks and I seem to just be able to eat and eat after drinking!
Takeaways and the uni diet –
I look back on my diet in the first semester of university and takeaways, pot noodles and lots of carbs were the staples… I also remember me and my flat mate had a tendency to make a full English breakfast after a night out. A few months in, we compared our portion size from the very first one we made to a few months later and it had literally tripled! The amount of food I was eating was considerably more than normal, it had crept up slowly without me realising and huge portions became the norm. It’s fun and sociable to order a takeaway with your new flat, definitely don’t rule this out but maybe be aware of how often you do this and try and not to over do it. After all, takeaways are also so so expensive. I have written more about the importance of portion sizes here.
Obviously, everyone starts university with different cooking experiences. Some people will be used to cooking full meals whilst others might not even know how to successfully boil an egg. Also, being in charge of your own food for the first time can be difficult and daunting and it can be tempting to live off an unhealthy diet. Cooking and food shopping at uni is a learning curve and if you aren’t a confident cook don’t just rely on ready meals and takeaways. Pasta is a great meal of options. It is quick and easy and very cheap too but just be aware of portion sizes and how much of it you eat. Find out how well your flat mates can cook, experiment and learn together and utilise one anthers strengths. Eating lots of vegetables and healthy foods can feel quite expensive but if you’re shopping and cooking as a group it will become less so.
Loneliness and comfort eating –
University is a time when your life changes and you are thrown into a completely new situation. There will be times when you’re having the time of your life. Naturally though, there may be times when you feel lonely or a bit homesick. Life is full of ups and down so there are bound to be down times too. For some people, me included, this could encourage comfort eating. Everyone goes through stages of comfort eating at times and it is completely normal but try not to always turn to food in times of sadness and loneliness. Instead reach out to friends and family. You could also join a new society and try out a new hobby.
…I want to point out that it is okay to put on a bit of weight at university. It is a time in your life when big changes are happening. You are thrown into an unknown setting and really have no idea what you are in for. You will meet new people, encounter new situations and through trial and error, through mistakes and successes you will learn so much about yourself. If you are starting university this September, you are about to embark on an incredible, emotional and very new journey that will take you outside your comfort zone at times. Keeping weight off shouldn’t be at the forefront of your mind and I really don’t want to encourage an obsession with not putting on any weight and I don’t want anyone to feel as though putting on a little bit of weight is necessarily a bad thing. I guess just having some awareness of how easy it can be to pile on the pounds might help if anyone feels they want to try and keep them off and is also a great way to keep yourself healthy if nothing more.